Archival Features, Poems

Carol Light: “Postcards from Ponza, The Prison Island”

IMG_3995To celebrate the passage of the winter solstice, we asked poet Carol Light to brighten our days with postcards from sunny places. Here’s what she she sent us, from a hotspot off the Italian coast…

“Ponza is one of the islands of the Italian Pontine archipelago, near Cape Circeo, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The island may have been the haunt of Homer’s infamous sorceress, Circe. Inhabited since Etruscan times, the island served as a place of exile for Romans plotting against emperors, as a penal colony, and as a dazzling vacation spot for celebrities, including Gina Lollobrigida. While visiting Ponza, I became fascinated by the idea of prisons, especially the idiosyncratic prison that contains the self, no matter where one is lucky enough to be. The poem began as a series of postcards written in blank verse.”

Postcards from Ponza, the Prison Island



My panoramic lens apprehends

a hammock slung between two lemon trees.

Beyond the terracotta potted palms,

grapes cluster, plump slubs twisting

through the vineyard’s unwound skeins. Damp towels

flap in the hibiscus-heavy breeze,

and terraced hillsides ziggurat to meet

a rocky harbor. Splashed coral pink

and periwinkle blue, flat-roofed villas,

like licked stamps, attach and overlap

around a sprawling beryl bay.



Tacking in and out of view, a yawl

runs and comes about, heeling over

the old caldera. A guidebook tells me

it’s Pontius Pilate (so legend has it) for whom

the island’s named. He bellows from a grotto.

And Circe taunts the seas. Hear her laugh

above her snorting, truffle-hunting crew?

Expats conspire beside me. I spy, maybe,

the plotting sisters of Caligula,

exiled here eternally. What luck

to spear an olive with such dauntless ghosts.



Swollen Zodiacs weave water webs

across a shallow cove. Wakes froth

from yacht to jetty to wobbling dock.

Throttled down, they set their bow lines now,

looping cleats, tying up.  One slip over,

a trawler unloads the day’s cargo. The catch:

slick holds of polpi and scampi, soon to swim

the length of a rich risotto pescatore.



Toasting Monte Guardia, I raise

my rubied glass past fifty fish eyes staring

from a basket. Did I seize the day?

Did I mention yet the always amber light?

I plot to overthrow the god that shrimps

my shoulders. Even here, I know, I’m not

Gina Lollobrigida. Not yet.



Gina Lollobrigida I’m not.

So what? We just got here. Our pensione?

It’s lovely, only the bedroom door won’t lock.

And what have we to steal, my beloved asks?

I feel it too, but, to be safe, standing

on the countertop, I reach three shelves

above our kitchenette to stuff the passports

in a stoneware crock.  I don’t unpack. I do

refold a suitcase full of clothes, ever

ready for departure.



Did you see her,

back there, the one who just whizzed past, straddling

the Vespa, spackled across the trapezius

of his (whose?) brawny torso? A carabiner

clipped her bikini to a haversack;

it slapped the sky.



I set a cosmetic case

beside the mirror. Bottled serums clink

against vials of embalming oils.

How much happiness is squandered waiting

for the end? The present tenses when

it can’t accommodate the future. And we

just got here. Madame Pluperfect peeps

through her marcasite lorgnette. Above

her head, contrails swipe and pig the firmament.



CLCarol Light‘s poems have appeared most recently in Poetry Northwest, Narrative Magazine, 32 Poems, Literary Bohemian, and American Life in Poetry. She received a GAP award from Artist Trust in 2011 and was a Jack Straw Writing Fellow in 2012. Her first book, Heaven from Steam, is forthcoming in 2013 from Able Muse Press. She lives with her family in Port Townsend, Washington.